Searchers call for more rescue services in Norman Wells

Richard St. Germain's body was recovered last week but searchers say the efforts to find him were severely hampered by a lack of equipment in the community.
Richard St. Germain, 21, in the cockpit of a NorthWright Airways plane on June 20. St. Germain had moved to Norman Wells to work as a pilot for the airline three weeks before his canoe tipped in the Mackenzie River. (submitted by Laval St. Germain)

​Searchers in Norman Wells say the efforts to find Richard St. Germain were severely hampered by a lack of equipment in the community.

St. Germain's canoe capsized near Norman Wells on July 15th. His body was found July 23, about 20 kilometres downstream from the town.

John Greathead led the search efforts and found the 21-year-old's body when flying over the area in a helicopter.

People from across the Sahtu travelled to Norman Wells to search for the young pilot, who had recently moved to the community. Greathead says despite extensive volunteer efforts by the community, the search was hindered by a lack of equipment. 

"Out of this tragedy there is a renewed understanding of what we do need. We had so many volunteers but didn't have equipment, fish finders and drags, all that other stuff," he said.

Greathead said the town had to bring in equipment from Fort Good Hope and Tulita and the local welder made custom-made equipment to help with the week-long search. 

"He'd drop everything and provide us with what we needed. Fabricate a lot of stuff and spend hours of research. But having said that, we got off to a slow start."

He says that equipment and the experience means people in Norman Wells are better prepared to help other communities in the region in distress. 

"It's going to happen again, that river has taken a lot of lives."

But he says the insurance needed to start up a local search and rescue non-profit group could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
John Greathead, search and rescue manager. (Karen McColl)

St. Germain's father Laval has set up a river rescue fund in Richard's name. He hopes it will pay for the equipment and training people in Norman Wells need.

"As well as life jackets simply suspended in trees so if someone jumps in a boat. If Richard had a lifejacket on, this would have been a really good story but now its a horrible tragedy just from that one omission, and we dont want that to happen ever again."

Richard St. Germain's funeral will be held Tuesday evening in Calgary.